Georgia Governor Nathan Deal speaks during a press conference after signing the 2019 fiscal year state budget at the Georgia State Capitol building in Atlanta, Wednesday, May 2, 2018. ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

Computer snooping bill vetoed by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed a bill Tuesday that would have made it a crime to access a computer or network without permission.

Deal’s veto came after opposition from Google, Microsoft, cybersecurity companies and tech experts who said the proposal would have criminalized legitimate efforts to find and fix vulnerabilities.

Deal wrote in his veto message that Senate Bill 315 could have undermined national security and harmed private businesses’ efforts to stop hackers.

“While intending to protect against online breaches and hacks, SB 315 may inadvertently hinder the ability of government and private industries to do so,” Deal wrote. “I have concluded more discussion is required before enacting this cyber security legislation.”

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Supporters of the measure, including Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, have said Georgia was one of only three states without an unauthorized computer access law. They say the law would have helped deter hackers while they lurk on computing networks, preparing to steal private information.

But opponents said the legislation was flawed because it allowed “hacking back” against intruders in the name of cybersecurity.

“Network operators should indeed have the right and permission to defend themselves from attack, but before Georgia endorses ‘hack back’ authority ... it should have a much more thorough understanding of the ramifications,” according to an April 16 letter to Deal from Google and Microsoft. “Provisions such as this could easily lead to abuse and be deployed for anticompetitive, not protective purposes.”

If SB 315 had become law, unauthorized computer access would be a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine. 

Georgia laws already prohibit data theft and tampering.

Deal said he hopes legislators work on a similar proposal next year that “promotes national security, protects online information and continues to advance Georgia’s position as a leader in the technology industry.”

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